While his players were stretching on the grass at FirstEnergy Stadium, manager Pete Mackanin spoke with members of the media prior to Thursday night's Phillies Futures Game. The topics were wide ranging, but he seemed especially happy to talk about the play of Cedric Hunter and the job he's done for the club in Spring Training.
Hunter and Will Venable are locked in a battle for a final roster spot. It's interesting because while Hunter has toiled all Spring in Phillies camp, Venable just arrived and hasn't had too much of an opportunity to make first-hand impressions on his new bosses. Venable has a longer major league resume, having played in 955 games over eight seasons with San Diego and Texas. Hunter's major league resume could be written on a post-it note; just five plate appearances in six games with the Padres back in 2011 when he and Venable were teammates. Forget the games played and you might think 'what's the difference?' Venable is a career .251 hitter, while Hunter is a career .250 hitter.
It has definitely been to Hunter's advantage to have a longer look in front of Mackanin and other Phillies brass. He's somewhat of an acquired taste that you have to see over a longer sample period than what Venable will have. For Hunter though, he's made the most of his chances in Clearwater and could be in line to open the season on the Phillies roster, just as he did in 2011 with the Padres.
“Cedric Hunter surprised me this Spring," admitted Mackanin. "I didn’t really know too much about him, I knew he was a perennial .280-plus Triple-A hitter, didn’t know what kind of defender he was, but I found out he’s a good defensive player and I like his aggressive approach at the plate, he gives you quality at-bats and he doesn’t care if it’s a lefty or righty."
Mackanin knows the numbers on Hunter, who is a career .288 hitter in the minors, having played in ten different minor league seasons with the Padres, Cardinals, Indians and Braves. He signed with the Phillies over the Winter as a minor league free agent and has made the most of his Spring Training invitation. Hunter is the type of player who fits perfectly into Mackanin's plan of stressing fundamentals and playing baseball the right way.
"One thing that jumped out in my mind, I put a hit-and-run on one time when he was hitting and the ball bounced in the dirt and he made contact, which is a good indication of what type of player he is and how he protects the runner," Mackanin remembered.
So, who's going to win that final outfield spot? You can never really know until the official roster is released, but both players would need to have a spot cleared on the 40-man roster to join the team, both are left-handed hitters and both definitely have a shot. If you believe in subtly, Mackanin may have tipped his hand as to which player he would prefer to have in Cincinnati on Monday.
“I haven’t seen enough of Will Venable," confessed the first-year skipper. "I’ve seen him in the past, but let’s put it this way, I really like Cedric Hunter and I like Will Venable for what he offers. We’ll have to make that decision the last day. Hunter made a great impression, leave it at that.”